OMDURMAN, Sudan - Nearly 40 Darfur rebel suspects appeared in court Wednesday over their alleged roles in an attack near the capital last month that left 200 dead and shocked the government.
Prosecutors accused the defendants of conspiring against the constitution, waging war against the state and terrorizing civilians. Lawyers said that they could face the death penalty if convicted.
The suspects were arrested after the May 10 attack near Khartoum by the rebel Justice and Equality Movement. It was the closest Darfur rebels have ever come to Sudan's seat of government, hundreds of miles from their bases in the far west of the country.
The Darfur conflict flared into a full scale war in 2003 when ethnic African rebels rebelled against the Arab-dominated central government, which they say marginalized them. Up to 300,000 people have died in the fighting and 2.5 million people were displaced.
Security was tight around three separate court houses Wednesday where the rebel suspects were tried. Policemen in open trucks, mounted with automatic rifles, closed roads leading to the court houses.
At one site, 13 defendants shuffled out of the courthouse, many without shoes, their ankles chained. They were whisked away immediately in police cars.
Wednesday's sessions were mostly procedural and judges set the trials to resume next week.
The defendants complained they had no access to their chosen lawyers. Defense lawyers were assigned by the state, and other lawyers volunteered to help them as well.
Senior defense lawyer, Mohammed Abdullah Duma, said these special courts deny the defendants normal procedures because they can only appeal their sentence once.
In a separate development, four U.N.-African Union staffers were reportedly assaulted and held at gunpoint in Sudan's war-torn West after being confronted by about 1,000 militiamen traveling in a huge convoy. According to a statement issued Wednesday by the joint team, one of the staffers was stripped of his belongings, kidnapped briefly and then released by Arab militiamen on horseback.
The U.N. has warned of rising banditry and insecurity in Darfur. Attackers killed an Ugandan peacekeeper last month.